Realm Exposed

Copyright 2019 Jeff Buehler - All Rights Reserved

We calmly sat looking over our handiwork. It had seemed to take several days to accomplish, although I couldn't say exactly how many. Perhaps it was closer to a week, but then time seems to have little meaning to us now. We were on a hill not too far from the city, and looked down on lights that sparkled. No clouds marred the great expanse above Jonathan and me. Big clear space that I can’t touch makes my mind wander. We might stay at this city for a long time, however long that might be. I used to know, but things have changed. Thinking is strange, because it makes me aware of my place in time and space. There are long stretches now when I don't think at all, and in those times the days pass without my being aware of them.

The hill we sat upon had all sorts of growth, but we had found a spot with just brown, tall grass that came to my chin when I sat. Clearing it away a bit the city was more visible. As the evening passed and daylight crept upon us we could see it all: the small downtown area, the streets meeting and winding into suburban neighborhood, the outskirts with a small cannery and a cement manufacturing plant, and the dumps. I could see train tracks running alongside the city closest to us. Jonathan mumbled something next to me, and I waited for him to say it more clearly for my benefit, or not to. Finally he said "thirteen," without a glance in my direction. He almost never looked at me when speaking, or I at him. When one of us did look at the other our thoughts were generally somewhere else. It was very difficult to see anything but our thoughts. It had been that way for quite some time.

The great sun came and left and came again. I know because I was thinking most of that time. Jonathan got up and told me that he was going to wander around the city some, city number 13. We numbered all the cities that we visited in order, and those numbers became their names. Their original titles meant nothing now, at least not to us. Maybe the spirits that Jonathan occasionally mentions seeing think the original names of their cities important. I can't see them, and I don't know what he's talking about, but if there is something there that used to be here and alive then probably they don't care. I suspect there are more important things for them to contemplate now, although perhaps they don't think at all. That's what Jonathan believes.

I decided to follow Jonathan down to the city. It wasn't far, maybe a days walk. "Should we populate this place?" asked Jonathan as we walked. I didn't answer him, and that was nice, because he didn't really want an answer. We always made some of the walking bodies for the cities we visited. It was sad, but it seemed like a thing to do. We knew that it probably wasn't a good thing, but good things and bad things were really all the same to us. My only regret was that sometimes breaking the stillness of a place was like trying to wake a corpse. Corpses refuse to wake up, and there is something hideously futile in the effort.

We found a shop in the city. The electricity here wouldn't stay good long. Without attendance the generators of the plants that we repair stop after a time. It was always a surprise when a city died again, and would not light up for us. That was part of the reason that we woke the cities, I think. Their life was only a part of it. Their death was the rest. For a long time there were other things that I thought about and did. Now we just do this thing, bringing the cities back to life, and we don't think about it anymore at all. The books that we found early on showed us how to repair the generators. The greatest find of all was the book that explained how to make the bodies walk, the moving machines that look like people, but of course aren't. They are just bodies. They move and dance because we tell them to, just as we tell the cities to have light. They do as we tell them because they have no choice.

Sometimes after we make a machine person they don't look quite right, or they don't move quite right, so we continue working on them. Each one takes a very long time to make, I think, but while I work I usually stop thinking and the time goes very quickly. Instead I think about wires, and about the molds that we make out of resin compounds, I think about what the people used to do. I don't think about being here, or about time.

I think Jonathon is not really a person, but rather another mechanism similar, though more complex, to the ones we make. He has a way with the machine persons that astounds me, easily solving the most difficult puzzles and casually bringing life to the inanimate. Also, it seems that he may be too detached to be anything else. I can't be sure, though, and if I told him about my suspicions he would be insulted; I would be. It isn't really important anyway...Jonathon is Jonathon, and Jonathon is my friend.

Number 13 wasn't unlucky. Actually, it was one of our better resurrections. Each city we visited was more alive than the last, and number 13 was particularly alive and vibrant. The inhabitants were as chipper and active in 13 as lively little maggots stupidly devouring all traces of death and stagnation. Jonathon seemed strangely disturbed. He cried in a way I have never seen, and his long gray hair limply shook as he sobbed. I couldn't cry.

I guess city 13 signaled the end of Jonathon's and my relationship. Jonathon died soon after the lights went out there. He wasn't artificial after all. Some time before he died Jonathon took to looking at me strangely, as if he were trying to decide something. He became delirious and cried all the time. Things are much lonelier now, but restoring the cities keeps me busy.

My artificial citizens weren't quite as good as Jonathon's were at first, but by the time I reached city number 9,905 I think my creations had become good enough to rival his. I even made a duplicate of him that comes with me wherever I go. I call it Jonathon 2, and its long gray hair blows wonderfully in the wind that comes up every so often. I wonder when my hair will grow long and gray like his did.